Friday, November 30, 2012

Bring it on, Winter!

Winter.  It will soon be here, like it or not.  I've always enjoyed winter (good thing, because we live in Michigan and it can get pretty brutal), but I'm looking forward to winter more than ever this year.   After a long, hot summer, filled with days of working from sun-up to sun-down, I am ready for a break, ready to hibernate.  Bring on the evenings of dimmed lights, cups of hot tea and cozying up with a good book (or two or three - my reading list stack is starting to teeter).  We are ready for slow days, long nights and comfort food. 
The animals are preparing for winter as well.  I'm actually quite proud of us.  For once, we've worked ahead and made preparations well in advance.  There will be no scrambling when the snow finally comes, no "Oh crap!  It's snowing!  What are we going to do with the chickens?" 
 Our chickens live a  portable coop all spring, summer and fall, but they need a more permanent home for the winter.  Last year, we simply rolled the coop into the barn, laid down straw on the floor and left the birds in there for the winter.  It was not an ideal situation.  The birds were obviously bored and we felt bad they didn't have much space to move around.  However, we had such an unusually warm winter that we were able to let the birds outside to free range a large chunk of the season. Chickens are not fond of snow, but they will tolerate a small amount. 
We decided we needed a better solution.  After much consideration, we decided to turn the milking parlor in the barn into a winter-time coop.  Our barn has a partially underground room that is set up for milking cows, about 4 at a time.  I don't think it has been used in over 40-50 years.   We won't be getting a milk cow anytime soon, so in the meantime, it makes a dandy chicken coop.

The chickens get their own door knocker on the door to the coop

The floor is cement, so we covered it with a thick layer of straw.  We'll keep adding to that layer, throwing down more straw every other day or so.  The chickens will scratch in the bedding, essentially turning it over and starting the composting process.  Composting creates heat, so the bedding will eventually become warm and help to heat the coop.  This is called a "deep bedding" system, as opposed to cleaning out the coop/stall each day and replacing it with fresh bedding.   When spring comes, we'll haul out all the bedding and let it compost a while more before we put it on the garden. 

Inside the milking parlor/chicken coop

For the nesting boxes, we used an old Sauder, cheap-o particle board bookcase we had in the basement.  John made partitions, so now we have 6 nesting boxes.  The ladies hop onto the saw horses to get into the nesting boxes.  They also roost on the saw horses at night.

Nesting boxes and roosts

The goats are located right next to the chicken coop.  We figured they could all keep each other company over the winter, along with the barn cats.

View into the milking parlor from the goat stalls
The goats are kept in the old horse stall, which is connected to the milking parlor.  They have plenty of room to move around and cozy places to curl up at night.  We're going to use the same "deep bedding" system with the goats.  I can't wait to put the goat compost on the garden in the spring - we bought some from a neighbor this past spring and I credit it for the smashing success of our garden this summer!

Toro, our Alpine goat continues to amuse us with his antics.  He is very much a teenager, full of spunk and mischief.  He doesn't seem to realize how big he is (and he's not done growing yet!).  When I go in the stall to feed and water them, he tries to jump up on me and get attention.  This would be cute with a little goat, but he's almost taller than me and those horns can be unfortunate.  I feel like I'm training a dog, constantly telling him "Off!"and having to correct him.  He's starting to catch on!  He a fun animal to have around, full of personality.


Toro and Lacy

Lacy seems happy with her new home.  I often catch her laying out in the pasture sunning herself.  She is very easy going and a joy to have on the farm.  We are so thankful her owner loaned her out to us for the winter.  Toro would be a wreck without a friend to keep him company. 


We had a sad event a few weeks ago.  When the kids and I were crossing the street to visit the neighbors, my son started yelling and pointing at something on the road.  It was our mama cat, Harriet.  She had been hit by a car.  It was a bit traumatic for the kids and we were all so sad to lose sweet Harriet.  Now we are down to Harriet's three kittens - Lucy, Grayson and Tiger.  We hope they survive the winter.  We need cats in the barn to control the mouse population. 

Grayson. Isn't he handsome?

The chickens are slowing down with their egg production, as the days get shorter and shorter.  We currently have 16 hens, but only get about 8 eggs a day.  If production drops much more, we may install a light bulb in the coop and turn that for about 2 hours before the sun comes up, to make sure they are getting enough light.  Chickens only lay if they they get about 12-14 hours of light each day. I'm not sure how I feel about artificially altering their hormones... but I also don't want to have to buy eggs at the store.  We'll see... 

One of the Aracaunas (Easter Eggers), posing for her headshot. I love her "earmuffs"!

Hope you are all doing well and preparing yourselves for winter too!  Bring on the snow!

P.S.  Speaking of light bulbs in chicken coops... for all my chicken friends, be careful what kind of light bulb you put in the coop. GE and Sylvania make a light bulb called "Rough Service Worklight", which sounds like a great choice for a coop.  The bulb is coated in teflon to keep it from shattering. Good, right?  NO!!!  Teflon, when heated,  releases a compound that kills birds. There have been unfortunate cases where people installed these in their coops, only to find all their birds dead the next morning. If it can kill birds so easily, I wonder what it does to humans... which is why we don't use Teflon pans anymore and avoid items that have Stainguard or Scotchguard on them (teflon). Sylvania light bulbs has a warning on the label to avoid use around birds, but GE has failed to put this warning on the label.  The more I learn about teflon... eek! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thoughts on "Eating Animals"

I just finished reading the book "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer (he is also the author of the book "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close").  Gulp.  Not for the faint of heart, but if everyone in America read this book, I'd like to think our world and the health of it's inhabitant would look radically different. This is quite possibly the most powerful and convincing book I have read about earth stewardship.  I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

 I went into the book thinking I already knew all the evils of factory farming and doubted that I would learn anything new.  Wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Turns out eating animals is not as simple as well... eating animals.  The whole process of eating animals from factory farms creates a ugly tangled web of animal rights issues, social justice issues, environmental issues and moral issues that many of us (myself included) are blind to...or would rather ignore.

 In this book, Safran Foer spends 3 years exploring factory farms and their accompanying slaughterhouses, talking with farmers and employees, getting first hand accounts of what really goes on behind closed doors.  This is not the rant of a lunatic PETA protester.  Safran Foer writes with calm clarity and insight, on a quest for the truth, presenting the reader with facts and allowing us to come to our own conclusions.  What sets this book apart from other animal rights books I have read is the author's focus on how animal suffering creates human suffering - for the farmers (who are often trapped in the system - they are not bad people, they're simply trying to make a living and the food giants told them this is the way of the future), the slaughterhouse employees (who work in inhumane conditions), and for us, the consumers (who eat the flesh of sick animals).  This quote from the book stopped me in my tracks:

"Our sustenance now comes from misery.  We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film... When we eat factory farmed meat, we live, literally, on tortured flesh.  Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own."  -p. 143

  The more I learn about the truth behind factory farming, the more uncomfortable I become.  That's the thing about knowledge, friends.  Once a truth has been revealed to you, how can you forget it?  In the past, I could claim ignorance about factory farming.  I had no idea what it involved, and quite frankly, I didn't care.  But now... now that I know, what will I do?  How can I knowingly support an industry that goes against everything I believe in, an industry that knowingly harms people, animals and the planet?  I cannot imagine that this is what God intended when He commanded us to "rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."  He said rule, not torture, destroy or oppress.

One solution, many will point out, is to become vegetarian.  I now understand why so many people choose this path, but it is not for me.  While I agree that meat is almost unnecessary in our modern culture (which has a wide variety of foods available to us at all times), I still feel that meat can be part of a healthy diet, when consumed in moderation (you also should be aware that after his 3 years of writing this book, Safran Foer is now a vegetarian).

The only other solution I can come up with is to essentially become a vegetarian when I'm in social situation where I don't know where the meat came from.  I'm adopting the term "flexitarian" to describe this type of eating - I still eat meat, but only in special circumstances (like the safety of my own home, where I know the meat is humanely raised).  Hopefully, this will placate people who are curious why I'm eschewing meat, because I fear if I explain to people that I don't want to eat factory farmed meat, I will be labeled a "snob".  Why is this?  Why is it perfectly acceptable for people to be vegetarian, but if someone chooses to only eat humanely raised meat, they are considered a high-maintenance snob?  Is there something wrong with wanting to opt out of inflicting horrific suffering on animals?

How do I explain this to people without offending them?  Is it rude to refuse what a friend serves me?  If so, then why is it not considered rude when vegetarian turns down meat or a person of Jewish heritage declines eating pork?  How do I find out where the meat comes from without asking the host/hostess and starting a whole string of questions, without seeming disrespectful?  Am I ready to deal with the social and relational implications of this choice?  Blah.  I don't have answers.  All I know is this:  knowledge calls for action.  What good am I if I learn about suffering and do nothing about it?  I know I'm only one person.  I cannot change the world.  But maybe, just maybe, I can plant a seed... and we all know what marvelous things can come from one tiny seed. 

I take comfort in knowing that factory farming is a fad and will soon dissolve.  It is so ridiculously unsustainable, it will never survive.  In fact, it may be breaking down sooner than later, as droughts hit and feed costs rise through the roof.  When will we realize that animals were not created to eat this way, to live this way, to grow this way?  Someday, our children and grandchildren will ask us what it was like eating meat from factory farmed animals.  "You mean to tell me that you guys actually ate meat from sick, suffering animals that were jammed into stuffy barns, that were pumped full of antibiotics, just to keep them alive long enough? You supported farming practices that polluted our land, lakes, and rivers? You destroyed the livelihood of small farmers, put small town slaughterhouses out of business and ruined entire towns just so you could buy meat a little cheaper?  Thanks for leaving us this legacy, this giant mess that we have to deal with. What were you thinking?"  Obviously, we were not. 

"I felt shame for living in a nation of unprecedented prosperity - a nation that spends a smaller percentage of income on food than any other civilization has in human history - but in the name of affordability treats the animals it eats with cruelty so extreme it would be illegal if inflicted on a dog." - p. 40

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goodbye Cheryl

It was not a surprise.  When Cheryl fell ill over 2 weeks ago, we knew it didn't look good.  In general, when a chicken gets sick, that is their death sentence.  Very few of them recover from illness.  We were fully aware of this, and expected her to die.  But it's human nature to cling to hope, right? We just never know how things might turn out.  We hoped for the best, but had realistic expectations. 

So why am I still so upset about the death of a chicken?  Chickens are not cute, they are not cuddly, they are not particularly endearing creatures.  And if I'm being honest, I don't have a real connection with most of our chickens.  I enjoy caring for them, but most are nameless birds wandering around in my backyard.  Cheryl, though.... she was different.  Her outgoing and friendly personality made her a pleasure to be around.  I spent many hours this summer working in the garden or yard, with her at my heels.  She kept me company, following me around, waiting for me to pet her or dig up a worm for her to eat.  Somehow, she gradually became elevated from "farm animal" status to "pet" status.

Cheryl was sick for a little over 2 weeks.  During that time, we kept her in the house so I could care for her.  She never laid an egg during that time, but did pass the weird looking thing called a "lash", as seen in my previous post.  A few days ago, we started putting her outside during the day since the weather was so nice.  Sunday night she didn't come to the door be brought inside.  Today my husband found her dead in the barn.  I think she basically starved to death - I could hardly get her to eat anything these last 2 weeks.  Poor thing. 

I wish I knew what happened to her and if there was anything I could have done to help her.  As much as we loved her, my husband and I had decided long ago that if any of our chickens fell ill, we would not spend the money to take them to a vet.  It's simply not in the budget.  We did out best to care for her and make her comfortable, so that has to be enough. 

The only upside to this whole situation is that now we don't have to agonize over the decision to butcher her someday.  As laying hens approach 2-3 years old, they stop laying regularly and it becomes more expensive to feed them than what they are worth in eggs.  There is no free lunch on the farm - animals need to earn their keep.  Our chickens have to lay enough eggs for us to sell, so in essence they pay for their own food. Next fall, we most likely have to butcher our 2 and half year old hens.  I was already dreading having to make the decision whether or not to spare Cheryl.  Now I don't have to decide. 

I wanted to share this photo of her I took this summer.  It's she stunningly beautiful?!?   Oh Cheryl, you will be missed.  The farm is not the same without you.  I'm thankful we were chosen to care for you during your short time on this earth.  I hope you enjoyed your days at Third Day Farms. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Strange Things: An Update on Cheryl

*Warning:  This post contains some gross (yet fascinating) photos.  If you are eating while reading this, STOP.  Read it later.  Just sayin'.  You've been warned.

Our beloved Cheryl, an ISA Brown chicken, has been ill almost 2 weeks now.  I know some of the blog followers also have chickens (and know how much we love these silly creatures). Perhaps someone out there can help us. 

Here's the scoop:  We noticed Cheryl looking a little "droopy" about 2 weeks ago.  She has been living in the house in a dog crate since then.  Cheryl barely eats, only a few bites a day (she likes yogurt or quinoa best).  She will drink, but only if I hold the water right up to her. Her comb has fallen over. She can walk, but prefers not to (probably because she has no energy from not eating).

At first, I suspected she was egg-bound (stuck egg - ouch!), as I noticed her abdomen seemed swollen.  I tried everything I could think of to help her.  I oiled her vent to make the egg easier to pass, I tried reaching a gloved finger up her vent to get things moving.  Goodness, I even gave her several warm baths, hoping to relax her muscles.  Nothing (she seemed to enjoy the bath and being blow dried, though!). 

And then last Friday morning when I went to check on her, I found this:

Ahhhhhhh!!!  What in the world is THAT?!?  She obviously passed this "thing" sometime in the night.  I picked it up to find that it was firm and rubbery, like a bouncy ball.  It looked just like a piece of breaded sweet and sour chicken, darker brown in some places, like it had been fried (....and now I can never eat that again, thank you very much).  It was soft, but not slimy.  Very, very bizarre.

So, of course I put photos of it on Facebook.  And of course everyone was curious what it looked like inside.  I succumbed to peer-pressure and decided I better cut it open.  Deep breath.  Slowly sliced it open.... to find this (are you sure you want to look at it?!? I'm giving you space to change your mind):

Scroll down....

Whoa.  I don't know what I was expecting, but not this.  What IS this?  At first I thought maybe it was a weird egg, but after cutting it open, I don't think it's an egg at all.  It looks like body tissue, not embryo. 

So, I jumped on some chicken forums (you would be SHOCKED how many chicken forums are out there!  Crazy chicken me...) and discovered a few people with similar situations.  Turns out this "thing" has a name- it is called a "Lash".  Ok, great, I know what it's called.  But what IS it?  I still don't really know.  Some sources say a lash is layers of reproductive tissue, or parts of the reproductive tract.  I cannot find any information that will tell me if this life threatening or not.  Seems there is very little known about lashes, what they are, how/why they are formed and what they mean. 

It's been nearly a week since Cheryl laid the lash.  She seemed to perk up a bit after she laid it, but still has not been eating much at all.  We've been giving her vitamins and electrolytes.   Her abdomen felt better the few days after the event, but today she felt lumpy again.  I fear she has more weirdness inside her. 

We're getting to the point where we ask "What now?"  She's no better or worse than she was almost 2 weeks ago.  Do we keep trying to nurse her back to health?  Do we turn her loose outside with the rest of the flock?  Will she ever lay eggs again?  As much as I love her, I'm not super thrilled about having a chicken living on the kid's play room.

What to do, what to do....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pat's Bread

Pat has been a family friend for as long time.  Even as a small child, I remember being in awe of her kindness, her generosity, her creativity... and her energy!  The woman is unstoppable.  Despite the fact that she always seems to be on the go, she also has a special talent for hospitality and thoughtful gift-giving.  I've never seen her arrive anywhere empty handed.  She never forgot birthdays and alway sent the "coolest" gifts when we were children.  When I think of women of faith that inspire me, Pat is on my Top Ten list. 
This past summer, Pat and her husband were able to make a trip to our farm for a tour. It was wonderful to see them again!  They had many words of wisdom to pass on, as she and her husband have been gardening and preserving food for many more years than I have.  I delighted in hearing Pat's stories of growing up on a farm herself.  These are memories and stories that need to be preserved. 
Of course, Pat showed up with gifts.  Of course!  She brought small toys and books for my children and canning supplies for me (she knows me well!).  Also, she brought a loaf of sandwich bread, which was quite possibly the best bread I have ever devoured (yeah, I may have eaten the whole loaf myself...).
I simply had to have the recipe, so Pat kindly sent it my way.  For the past few months, I have been tweaking the recipe a bit, sometimes sucessful, sometimes not.  I wanted a bread that was made of 100% whole wheat, but I've discovered it's difficult to make a soft, tasty whole wheat sandwich bread.  I figure mostly whole wheat is better than none.  I still have not perfected the recipe (I think Pat has magical hands that make everything taste fabulous), but I'm pretty happy with it.  Here is the recipe, with my changes:
  • 8 cups of flour ( at least 1-2 cups of bread flour AND then the remaining flour either whole wheat flour OR white whole wheat flour OR a combination of the two)
  • 2 tbsp yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup honey OR brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp melted coconut oil OR butter
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 large egg
1.  Mix the whole wheat flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer).  Slowly stir in the water, honey, coconut oil/butter, and egg.  Then add the groud flaxseed and half of the bread flour.
2.  Stir all ingredients until mixed.  Knead dough on a floured surface, using up the remaining bread flour.  Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes in a mixer, 10 minutes by hand.
3.  Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour (or until doubled in size).
4.  Punch down dough and divide into thirds.  Shape into loaves and let rise in the bread pans for 30-45 minutes (or until the dough rises above the top of the pan about an inch or two).
5.  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. 
-End results depend on the flour you use.  You can use more bread flour if you're not a huge whole wheat bread fan. I had the most sucess using King Arthur Whole Wheat flour.  The King Arthur White Whole Wheat is nice too (white whole wheat is still 100% whole wheat).  Recently, I purchased a 50 pound bag of Whole Wheat Pastry flour and was disappointed to discover that it did not work well for the bread, despite my many attempts.  Oh well!  It's fabulous for for everything else - cookies, pancakes, biscuits, tortillas, etc.
-This recipe makes 3 loaves of bread.  I've found that the size of the bread pan can make a big difference.  I prefer smaller bread pans, which are hard to find (I found mine at a garage sale).  Smaller pans create a taller loaf, more like bread you would buy at the store.
-Dinner rolls - Often, I will make make 2 loaves of bread and turn the third piece of dough into rolls.  Simply pull apart the dough into pieces and roll them into balls.  Place the dough balls in a baking pan to rise alongside your bread.  Reduce the baking time by about 10 minutes (keep on eye on them, as oven temperatures and times vary.  They are done when golden brown on top.)
-Cinnamon Swirl Bread - A special treat!  This bread makes stellar french toast, or just eat toasted with butter.  Simply follow the bread recipe from above, but add an extra egg yolk to the dough.  After the first rise,  punch down the dough and divide into thirds.  Take one section (1/3) of dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface, about 8 inches wide and 24 inches long.  Spoon all of the filling onto dough and spread evenly.  Starting at the short end, carefully roll the dough, tucking in the sides to keep the filling from spilling out.  Pinch the seam and place dough in a greased pan.  Let rise again before baking.
Filling Recipe:  Combine the following ingredients-
-1 large egg white (you already put the yolk in with the bread dough)
-2/3 cups brown sugar, sucanant or maple sugar (our favorite!)
- 2 tbsps flour
-1 tbsp cinnamon
-1 tsp vanilla extract

A special thanks to Pat for sharing this great recipe!  Happy bread baking!

Friday, November 9, 2012


* Bear with me.  This post is not about farming, animals, food, gardening or health.   I promise to get back to our regularly scheduled programming...

You are the potter.  I am the clay.

There I rest on the table, shapeless, formless, blissfully comfortable.  I know life no other way.  I have been in this state for as long as I can remember.

You approach the table.  Picking me up in Your hands, You roll me between Your palms, examining me, observing me... then slam me down onto the table.  Over and over again I am smashed, no trace left behind of my previous form.  Then comes the kneading, the pressing, stretching, pulling, as You work to eliminate air pockets from me, worthless space, excesses that cause me harm.

Battered and bruised, You carry me tenderly to the potters wheel.  You take my limp, pliable body and carefully place me in the center of the wheel.  The wheel begins to rotate, faster and faster, until I am spinning wildly, out of balance, flailing about.  Then I feel Your powerful hands surrounding me and I am overcome by the pressure - oh, the pressure.  I don't know if I can bear it.   Your strong hands gradually smooth my lumps, remove my wobbles, move me precisely to the center of the wheel.  Slowly, You remove Your hands to reveal me spinning smoothly, beautifully, perfectly centered by You.  I am an object of beauty, full of possibilities, hopes, futures, dreams, expectations.  I wait eagerly for You to transform me from a simple lump of clay into a vessel, a vessel to suit Your purposes.

You begin to prepare me for more stretching.  Slowly, methodically, You pull me upwards, applying pressure from all sides.  I cannot escape it.  Gradually, I begin to take form.  You ruthlessly shave and scrape away excess clay, anything that does not compliment the form You intend for me.  More pushing, more pulling, more thinning, more shaping, more scraping.  Finally satisfied with my form, You slow the spinning wheel to a stop.  I am complete... yet not finished.  I am still terribly fragile, easily broken, able to revert back into my former state of nothingness. 

No, I need to be fired in a furnace, baked by heat until I am solid and strong.  You carefully place me in the furnace and I am slowly enveloped by the searing heat.  The inferno changes me, renews me.  When I finally emerge, I am transformed.  Though I may look similar, I have been permanently changed.  There is no going back to who I used to be. 

You gently pick me up, stroke me lovingly, and give me a nod of approval.  I'm ready to be a vessel for You, one of the many vessels You use each day for countless purposes.  It is the ultimate honor to be used by You, my loving, tender Creator.

You are the potter.  I am the clay.

For the past few years, I have been undergoing a slow transformation.  After years of crying out, asking God to change my heart and transform me into who He wants me to be, I'm finally beginning to recognize His work in my life.  There have been many deeply personal issues weighing on my heart lately, things that I cannot even begin to find the words for.... I cannot describe them if I tried.  I find comfort knowing that God understands these groaning of mine, these things I cannot utter. 

I sensed a change about to overcome me.  Often, I had the oddest sensation that I was standing on the edge of a cliff, contemplating jumping.  This past week, I felt God give me a gentle push off that cliff.  I am in the free-fall right now.  What does this mean?  I don't know.  How will I land?  I don't know.  I just know that I'm going to hit bottom soon... and once I hit bottom there is nowhere else to go but up. 

This week, I was weeping to God in the morning, pouring out my feelings, telling Him how I was feeling pulled, stretched and shaped, so much that it hurt.  I was having trouble finding balance, feeling totally uncentered.  I was pleading with Him, asking Him to remove this pain... and then it hit me that THIS is what I had been asking for.  I had BEGGED Him to transform me, to change me. God is answering my long-suffering prayer. When I realized this, I had to laugh through my tears.  Change is hard.  Change is painful.  Change requires removing parts of our old self and taking on a new self.  It reminds me of that old saying "Be careful what your ask for".  I asked for this.

As I was wondering how God will transform me, the imagery of a potter working at the wheel kept coming to mind.  In my former life (before I became a stay-at-home-mother), I was a high school Art teacher and I taught countless students how to "throw pots" on the wheel (that is the technical term for making something on the potter's wheel).  There is something grounding and powerful about working on the wheel, watching something come from nothing, participating in the joy of creating as God does.   I remember teaching my students that one of the main reason humans create art work is to express emotion.  There are some things in this life that words simply cannot contain.  Art is taking the internal and making it available to all to see (and this is why artists are so sensitive about their art - we're literally putting our inner thoughts on display for the world... talk about putting yourself out there...).

  I remember the day there was a tragedy in our school, announced during a school gathering.  The father of one of my students had suddenly died the night before. We were all overcome with grief and shock.  I vaguely remember stumbling back to the classroom and my beloved students found me sobbing in the kiln room. Some students solemnly began working on projects, others cried, while many sat unable to move, painfully aware that we were missing a classmate that day. I could not speak - one of my dear students took the reigns for me and lead us in a time of prayer.  Afterwards,  I wandered over the to the potters wheel and found a piece of clay waiting on one of the potters wheels - it had been placed there the day before by the student who father had died.  Sensing God's direction, I sat at that wheel, fought back the tears, and began to transform that lump of clay into something of beauty, finishing the work my student was not able to do.  The feel of the clay in my hands soothed me, centered me, smoothed my raw, jagged edges.  That clay seemed to absorb my grief and sadness, and out of it rose something beautiful. I desperately needed to create that vessel, to feel that connection to God, to be reminded of His promise that He will make all things beautiful - I had no words to express my sorrow, but my hands knew how.   When the vessel was finished, I fired it, glazed it and presented it as a gift to the suffering family.  Even on such a terrible day, God's wonder, goodness and beauty were still present.. 

  I have begun to see myself as the clay and God as the potter.  God takes my grief, my sadness, my failures, my inadequacies, my rough edges... and He transforms me into something beautiful, something that has purpose.  Right now I feel as though I am in the kneading stage - God has taken me from my complacent life and is in the process of stretching, smashing, pulling at me. It hurts.  It's making me question everything I accepted as "normal" (and this is big, because I'm not used to asking questions... I always simply accepted things).  My world is being turned upside down.   God is removing things from me, taking away what harms or hinders me from being who He wants me to be.  Soon, He will place me on the wheel and center me.  He will form me.  He will place me in the furnace to change me.  Yes, this is what I desire - center me, form me, change me.  I am an expression of God's heart, something words cannot describe. 

Transform me, Lord Jesus. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Just a quick post today.  I'm hoping someone wiser than me will have some words of wisdom to impart. 

Our dear Cheryl is not doing well.  I noticed on Saturday that she looked a little "droopy" - not moving much, standing around with her body all hunched up and her head down.  We didn't think much of it, but when I went to open the coop Sunday morning, she didn't come out.  Poor thing stood there and as I watched her from the kitchen window, she didn't budge for over 45 minutes.  So I pulled out the "chicken hospital" (a.k.a. the old dog crate) and put her into the Intensive Care Unit (our house). 

Upon examination, I discovered that her comb had drooped over and was starting to turn dark purple.  Her abdomen felt slightly swollen.  She would not touch food, but I was able to get her to drink by holding up the water right to her beak. 

She has now spent 4 days in the ICU.  Her comb is still droopy, but no longer purple (maybe it was the cold weather?).  She abdomen feels more or less the same. There is evidence of poop in her cage, so I know she is not completely blocked up.   I'm wondering if she is egg-bound (the egg is stuck inside her), since she has not laid an egg in 4 days and she normally is a reliable layer.  I even went so far as to lube up her vent with olive oil and have a feel around inside her (with gloves of course!), but I can't feel anything resembling an egg.  Most websites say that an egg-bound chicken usually dies in about 48 hours.  Is that really what is bothering her?  And if not, what is?

I've given her two baths in warm water to help relax her vent muscles, hoping it would help her pass an egg, if indeed that is her problem.  No such luck, but she did seem to enjoy her warm bath, along with the towel rubdown and feather blow drying.  Let me tell you, it takes a loooooooong time to blow dry a chicken.

I'll be the first to admit I feel a little silly spending so much time caring for a chicken.  The farmer in me says that she will most likely not improve and it would be more humane to put her out of her misery.  But the other, more sentimental side of me can't bear to do that if there is hope she might get better.  She doesn't seem to be in pain.  She perks up when I come to check on her and help her drink, or offer her food (I did get her to eat a little yogurt and oatmeal).  I know I should not be so attached to a chicken... but I am.  Cheryl is special and we all love her dearly. 

If anyone has advice or suggestions, please share!